Associate writer Craig Neff has written stories on Olympic sports, and he's equally at home at the pool, the track and the mat. His piece on the Cubs-Padres series (page 32) now exposes him to the diamond, and he should be comfortable there, too. As baseball editor Steve Wulf observes, "Craig has all the tools to be a baseball writer: an excellent eye, quick hands and a very good Frequent Flyer program."
Actually, Neff made his baseball-writing debut 17 years ago in his hometown of Roxbury, Conn., when he turned out a term paper for his fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Eanes, titled "Denny McLain: Pitcher Extraordinaire." Eventually, Mrs. Eanes and other teachers began complaining that when it came to compositions, young Neff had a one-subject repertoire.
Neff says he even slept with his baseball glove, "to break it in." He collected 3,000 baseball cards ("and chewed all the gum") and when he was 13 wrote an impassioned letter, published in The Sporting News, that suggested an expanded version of total bases ("add walks, steals and hit by pitches, too").
Though Roxbury was in the no-man's-land between Yankee and Red Sox country, Neff chose pinstripes. He also played make-believe games behind his house in which he took the role of players on both teams. "I hit fungoes toward our woods, designating certain trees as opposing players," he says. "I lost a lot of balls." He made score-book entries after every at bat and used major-leaguers' names, with one exception. "I used my own name for the Yankee shortstop and was a switch hitter because the rightfield fence—a stone wall—was real close, just like in Yankee Stadium." One year Neff hit 100 home runs, if you trust the scorekeeper.
Neff never became the real-life Yankee shortstop, although he has played both that position and third base ably enough for the office softball team. Obviously he hasn't lost his devotion to the summer game. One afternoon he walked five miles to get to Shea Stadium from his apartment in Queens. "The idea of being able to walk to a major league ball park was strangely exhilarating," he says.
Neff's in the big time now. He flew to Chicago.
RONALD C. MODRA
NEFF'S ZEST FOR THE NATIONAL PASTIME KNOWS NO CONFINES, FRIENDLY OR OTHERWISE